Helen Gørrill

Portfolio: The Telegraph

The Telegraph: 17 November 2018 

 

[Helen Gorrill's] Portraits of a stylish stay

 

You cannot see Tate Modern from the Bankside Hotel. The contemporary-art behemoth of London’s lower river’s edge skulks a quarter-mile to the east, separated from its latest near-neighbour by the parallel lines of Blackfriars Bridge and the tracks of the adjacent railway hub. Indeed, despite its mighty heft, you cannot see a single brick of the power-station-turned-cultural-titan from the hotel door on side-street Upper Ground, as the even loftier One Blackfriars residential skyscraper – under development – blocks the view.

But there is no disguising that it is Southwark’s most visible post-industrial building with which the Bankside Hotel most wishes to fall into harmonious step. The freshest addition to the Autograph Collection brand of luxury boutique hideaways – whose portfolio has stretched to more than 160 properties since its foundation in 2010 – wants to be seen as a gallery almost as much as a place of lodging, with its 161 spacious rooms.

Its ambition is clear in the corridor off the reception, where three portraits position it as both cleverly modern and in sync with the area around it. All are the work of Helen Gorrill; all fit this British artist’s collage style of taking a famous image and adapting it with incongruous 21st-century adornments – a process she has called “vandalising old masters and reviving historical portraits through photo-bombing and combining elements from contemporary sub-cultures – often using media such as lipstick, eyeliner and human hair.”

But if her treatment of the Mona Lisa – Da Vinci’s smiling noblewoman, glamorous in a graffiti-daubed headscarf bearing the words “Stay Wild” – is merely amusing iconoclasm, her transformations of Shakespeare and Sir Christopher Wren find their targets precisely. The Bard is captured in white trainers, with a skateboard in his hand – a nod to the proximity of the Southbank Undercroft Skatepark (next to Waterloo Bridge) and the Globe Theatre. Wren has a pigeon perched on his left wrist, as a comment, perhaps, on the number of said birds you might encounter outside his greatest creation, St Paul’s, but mainly as a reminder that you can see the colossal-domed 17th-century cathedral from the entrance – and that, in setting up here, the hotel has slipped into grand, historic company.

Gorrill is represented by the Contemporary Collective – an art gallery born into the creative swirl of Hackney, east London, in 2006, and now based at Somerset House on the Strand. It has made a mission statement of “supporting young artists in the emerging stages of their careers, to provide them with meaningful exposure and access to the market place and collectors”. It will curate the hotel as, effectively, an extension of its own space, filling its walls with the paintings and visions of talented individuals. Londoner Luke Walker is already notable by his presence. It is his dramatic, lined representations of structures in the capital – produced by applying paint with thin strips of masking tape – that illuminate the alcove next to the lifts on the ground floor. The city come within.

And it is Walker who will take the first turn in the hotel’s main accoutrement – a ground-floor studio where artists from the Contemporary Collective will settle in for three-month residencies. Guests will be able to watch them work. 

“We’ve asked the gallery to provide us with artists from the SE1 postcode, or as close as possible,” the hotel’s Stuart Leckie explains. “They say they have enough London artists to keep us going for years.” The studio will be a major attraction, he continues. “We knew we would have this space,” he says. “It’s a good, different way to put it to use. London has enough coffee shops.”

While the hotel’s artistic focus is local, its roots are international. Its six-storey outline began to take shape in 2015 under the gaze of Dayna Lee, a former film set designer headquartered in Los Angeles – who has described her concept for the Bankside’s interiors as “art-school style with added polish, an appreciation for mid-century collection, and black-line drawings – all works in progress”.

If this sounds like baffling California design-speak, it has solidified into something warm and winning now it has been translated to the far side of the Atlantic – a tribute to a chic yesteryear that flirts with the Twenties and Fifties without becoming lost in the past. 

A decadent necklace of chunky Murano glass arcs down from the ceiling in reception; a line of disembodied metal plates from old US pinball machines – with names such as “Hold That Tiger” and “Flash Ball” – haunt a wall in the basement; grey-and-white graffiti-scrawl pieces, inspired by one of Lee’s favourite painters, 20th-century American mould-breaker Cy Twombly, pepper the guest-floor corridors. 

Then there is the mezzanine lounge, an oasis where Lee’s blueprint has been given free rein. The roof appears to be held up by stacks of heavy tomes, which turn out to be parliamentary white papers in green covers; novels in plain hardbacks – Promise At Dawn (1960) by Romain Gary; The Man In The Mirror (1965) by Frederick Ayer – are piled on shelves. Guests are welcome to take them.

Will those checking in notice the effort that has been made? It is difficult not to. My own room on the fourth floor had a bright photograph of Great Arthur House House – the modernist tower-block in the Barbican estate – which was the tallest residential building in the UK at the time of its completion in 1957. Art Yard, the house restaurant, continues the theme, displaying a Pollock-esque swirl of paint – by American abstract artist Arthur De Salvo – at its heart.

The menu, overseen by head chef Lee Streeton (once of St James’s restaurant 45 Jermyn St) keeps things a little simpler, serving a sirloin on the bone with Béarnaise sauce for £26.50, a black-truffle-and mushroom pizza for £12, and a Yard Burger with rarebit melt for £16. Waiting for the latter, I was drawn to the opposite wall, and the long mural of tiles crafted by another gifted Londoner, ceramicist Laura Carlin. It depicts the history of the Bankside area in sketches of everything from Viking longships to New Year fireworks. 

As with Tate Modern, I can see neither from the hotel door – but the effect is no less striking.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

made? It is difficult not to. My own room on the fourth floor had a bright photograph of Great Arthur House – the modernist tower-block in the Barbican estate – which was the tallest residential building in the UK at the time of its completion in 1957. Art Yard, the house restaurant, continues the theme, displaying a Pollock-esque swirl of paint – by American abstract artist Arthur De Salvo – at its heart.

The menu, overseen by head chef Lee Streeton (once of St James’s restaurant 45 Jermyn St) keeps things a little simpler, serving a sirloin on the bone with Béarnaise sauce for £26.50, a black-truffle-and mushroom pizza for £12, and a Yard Burger with rarebit melt for £16. Waiting for the latter, I was drawn to the opposite wall, and the long mural of tiles crafted by another gifted Londoner, ceramicist Laura Carlin. It depicts the history of the Bankside area in sketches of everything from Viking longships to New Year fireworks. 

As with Tate Modern, I can see neither from the hotel door – but the effect is no less striking.